With the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin just around the corner, it seemed a pertinent time for a blog series on Franklin and the experiences of the people here during the Civil War. This first installment, “A Wealthy Secesh Town”, explores the social, political, and economic climate in and around Franklin during the first part of the war.
The 1861 Zeitgeist
The possibility of secession divided Middle Tennessee, but, ultimately, the region proved to be the tie-breaker between secessionist West and Unionist East Tennessee. In the winter of 1861, Middle Tennessee narrowly voted to remain in the Union. A June re-vote proved that Fort Sumter had shifted their allegiances. In June of 1861, Tennessee became the last state to join the Confederate States of America. Little did Middle Tennesseans know the cost they would begin to pay in less than one year as they watched their home transform into a ravaged battlefield. Over the course of the Civil War, Williamson County would see 222 battles, raids, and skirmishes fought on its soil.
Franklin in 1861 was a wealthy town nestled in Tennessee’s breadbasket, and its white residents were strongly secessionist. William Casley of the 69th Ohio Infantry, when writing to Military Governor Andrew Johnson, described Williamson County as “the hottest bed of secessionism in the state.”1 A Wisconsin soldier called Franklin “a pleasant town of about 3000 inhabitants…cleaner and better laid out than Nashville, and the people seem to be more civilized and have much better manners.”2 Another claimed, “…there were but 4 or 5 Union men in a population of some 1,500 or 2,000.”3 While this is doubtless an underestimate, it is clear that the color of the town was decidedly gray. A small number of white men from Williamson counties joined Federal regiments, but the county raised almost exclusively Confederate companies, the most notable being Company D of the 1st Tennessee Infantry, the Williamson Grays. (Late in the war, Company H of the 5th Tennessee Cavalry U.S.A. was raised from southwestern Williamson County, a pocket of Unionist sentiment. The considerable contributions of hundreds of formerly enslaved black men from Williamson County to the Federal cause are discussed later.)
Of the Williamson County men going off to war, thirty-three joined Hiram Lodge No. 7 under special dispensation. In the spring of 1861, the Grand Lodge of Tennessee enacted protocol allowing soldiers to join the Masonic fraternity on a fast-track. An initiation that normally took months to complete was reduced to as short as three days. The guiding principle behind the special dispensation was the belief that Masonic brotherhood superseded political and military allegiance, therefore brothers on opposite sides of the battlefield should strive to help, not harm, each other. Of the thirty-three men who joined Hiram Lodge No. 7 under dispensation, only two, Theodrick Carter and William Hanner, died in the war.4 The special dispensation proved surprisingly effective in preserving Masonic lives. Years after the war, Moscow Carter claimed to have successfully used the Masonic sign of distress at his capture. Though he was eventually sent to prison, Carter passed the early days of his capture in a hotel, where his greatest complaint was boredom.
Though Franklin was regarded as a vehemently secessionist town, a strong, if small, Unionist population existed. Most Unionists remained quiet in 1861, fearful of vengeance from the secessionist majority. Some, like Dr. Daniel B. Cliffe, went so far as to join Confederate regiments, hoping to protect their families and property. Cliffe was captured and paroled early in 1862 (he accompanied Confederate General Felix Zollicoffer’s body to Nashville) and spent the majority of the war at home on 2nd Avenue in Franklin. Another, W.S. Campbell, fled behind Federal lines as soon as occupying forces arrived. In late 1863, he was appointed Local Special Agent and oversaw trade in Franklin.6 (Stay tune for more on Franklin’s trade stores in the next installation!) Outspoken Unionists faced persecution early in the war. Sisters Octavia and Fannie Courtney, 19 and 16, respectively, were paraded through the streets of Franklin under guard.7 After Middle Tennessee fell to the Federal army, Octavia fled to Nashville, marrying Lieutenant James Cochnower of the 6th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, occupying forces of Franklin. Fannie, however, remained in Franklin for most of the war, nursing Union soldiers after the November 1864 battle.8
The secessionist women of Franklin too were eager to do their part for the Confederacy–and to be seen doing it. Matrons of Franklin’s leading families gathered their sewing machines, daughters, and enslaved women and convened at the Masonic Hall to sew uniforms and keepsakes for Confederate soldiers. Late in life, Adelicia McEwen German, daughter of Franklin’s war-time mayor, named nearly twenty women as present at the Masonic Hall makeshift textile factory, including Carrie McGavock and her enslaved woman Mariah, Sallie Carter, alleged Confederate spy; and Virginia Cliffe, a then-quiet Unionist. German said,
They met with their sewing machines, some cut, others boasted and many ran the machines. They talked as women will do, and worked from early morn until it was too dark to see. Some were so blood-thirsty they declared if they had the “whole yankee nation concentrated in one neck, they would gladly sever it with one big stroke.”9
Enslaved African Americans made up more than half of Williamson County’s population in 1860, ranking the county third highest in the state for its enslaved population, proportionally. No one recorded their stance on the matter in 1861, but they showed their beliefs clearly with their actions after Federal occupation.
Federal Occupation, 1862 into 1863
“It is said that the Columbia road is being repaired–that our forces occupy Franklin, and that Granger’s army is moving forward on that line.” War correspondent from the 10th Wisconsin Infantry, 22 Feb. 1862 10
The lives of Franklin’s inhabitants drastically changed in February 1862. Conquering Federal forces swept south into Tennessee. On February 17, Nashville became the first Confederate state capital to fall. From there, Federal soldiers marching south entered, subdued, and occupied Franklin. The Nashville correspondent to the New York Times reported that Octavia Courtney welcomed General Negley into Franklin, waving red, white, and blue ribbons.11 When one regiment left Franklin, another soon appeared to replace it. In the early days of occupation, most Franklinites remained strong in their convictions. One Wisconsin war correspondent wrote in the spring of 1863, “We have found a few Union men in our two days stay here, but as a majority the people are bitter secessionists.”12 Like it or loathe it, the Federal presence in Franklin would remain frequent well into Reconstruction. Though the area was considered subdued, guerillas continued to spar with Federal troops throughout the war.
Federal occupation radically changed Franklin and the lives of those who lived in its vicinity. They townscape was transformed. Federal soldiers became a constant fixture in the town and on the roads. Regiments seized public buildings, churches, and schools for barracks, offices, and hospitals. A Wisconsin soldier described Franklin in the spring of 1863 as having “a large and substantial court house–now occupied as a barracks–several large and elegant buildings, built for, and, before the war, occupied as seminaries (now used for hospitals,)…”13 During much of Occupation, the Courthouse served as the Provost Marshall’s office. The Masonic Hall, one of the largest public buildings in Franklin, was also seized. The Masons of Hiram Lodge No. 7 began to meet in a house on the public square after Occupation began. They did not regain their building until the summer of 1865 but were well aware of its use as barracks, hospital, and quartermaster’s office.14
The strain of hundreds to thousands of occupying soldiers quickly deteriorated living conditions in the town and surrounding countryside. By March 1862, Federal soldiers were already dying from disease and being buried in Franklin’s City Cemetery, leading to an incendiary incident in early summer in which several teenage girls were caught dancing on their graves. The debacle enraged Federal soldiers so much that the situation was reported in the Official Records. Colonel Lewis D. Campbell of the 69th Ohio Volunteer Infantry recounted and investigated the story, describing the girls as “”indiscreet misses in their teens,” and daughters of respectable parents.”15
Disease, present in 1862, set up permanent residence in Franklin during the first half of 1863. Pneumonia, tuberculosis, typhoid, and dysentery wreaked havoc in the military camps through the winter, spring, and summer. Chronically fatigued and undernourished, soldiers were prime targets for disease, and military companies were ideal Petrie dishes for incubation. Likewise, military encampments, with men cramped in close quarters and latrines dug willy-nilly, provided conditions in which contamination ran rampant. Sick men lingered long enough to transmit their diseases to their companions, and their bodily waste often entered the water supply, infecting people they had never even met.
Disease took its toll on civilians as well, spreading outward from the military camps. While soldiers were infected and succumbed to disease rapidly, it crept more slowly into the lives of Franklin’s civilians. Two of the Lotz children, who lived south of town on Columbia Pike, died from typhoid fever in 1863. According to Dr. Thomas Flagel, disease among Franklin’s civilian population doubled after the Federal army’s arrival. Furthermore, in 1863, fatalities increased, even though the town’s civilian population by this time was at just half its prewar size.16
For the enslaved people in and around Franklin, the Federal army’s presence was an offer of freedom. Soon after the army’s arrival in Middle Tennessee, enslaved men, women, and children began to flee farms and plantations for the Federal lines. Initially the U.S. Army did not see liberation as one of its duties. They referred to escaped enslaved people as “contraband” and put them into refugee contraband camps.17 In Franklin, a contraband camp was established to the north of the Harpeth River, west of the railroad tracks, and east of Franklin Pike.18 From the Court of Claims interviews pertaining to the Masonic Hall, it seems likely that much of 1st and 2nd avenues south became a refugee camp as well by the end of the war. No longer enslaved but not necessarily free, people in contraband camps were subject disease, exposure, and exploitation.19
The Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863, changed the situation for black men in Middle Tennessee. Though it did not free Tennessee’s enslaved population, it did allow black men to join the U.S. Army and Navy. More than 300 enslaved men from Williamson County emancipated themselves and joined the U.S. Colored Troops and U.S. Navy, fighting to free their families, loved ones, and strangers with whom they shared the experience of bondage. Some even returned to Franklin and Williamson County as occupiers and liberators.20 A correspondent from a Wisconsin regiment wrote in October 1863, “Fields on every hand, bereft of fences suggest the march of armies, others still fenced but grown to weeds hinted by their neglect how armies are recruited,” suggesting that many enslaved men from the county were actively taking freedom into their own hands and joining the United States Colored Troops.21 By February 1863, the scarcity of enslaved laborers was obvious even to newcomers. A correspondent from the 5th Wisconsin wrote:
“Most all of their negroes have either taken “French leave” and gone to Nashville, or been driven off South. A great many had been handcuffed, chained, or tied with ropes, and marched down to Mississippi.”22
Mason and planter John McGavock of Carnton Plantation had done just this with his slaves, sending them down to Alabama, well beyond (he believed) the reach of the Federal army or a realistic dash for freedom.23
Constructing Fort Granger
1863 saw the construction of Federal fortifications and the increased decay of Franklin’s public buildings and residences. Federal forces soon found a use for the refugees behind their lines. Throughout the area, contraband were exploited for free labor building forts. During the spring of 1863, General Gordon Granger ordered construction to begin on a fort overlooking Franklin. Fort Granger was constructed on Figuer’s Bluff, a hill on the northeast side of the Harpeth River, just outside the town. The workforce that built it was comprised of U.S. soldiers and unpaid contraband. Many of the men who worked to build Fort Granger later enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops. A Wisconsin soldier wrote in June 1863:
“At the time we left here in March last the defensive works at this place were but just commenced.–Now the most important of them are completed, and others not then contemplated have been commenced. On a hill close to the river and commanding the town and all the roads that lead to it, there stood three months ago a beautiful brick residence, surrounded by groves of cedar and other evergreens. Every vestige of the house and its surroundings have now disappeared, and where it stood has been constructed one of the most formidable forts I have ever seen.”24
Franklin’s Decay, May-July 1863
Historian Kathryn Shively Meier describes Civil War armies as walking biohazards that could rapidly render neat and bounteous landscapes into “sprawling latrines” and “transitory urban slums.”25 By early spring of 1863, Franklin and its surrounding countryside had undergone such a transformation due to both Confederate and Federal armies. Though controlled by the Federal army, the area was still contested. December 1862 saw at least five skirmishes around Franklin. In January 1863, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest conscripted men in Franklin, and in April Confederate cavalry led by General Earl Van Dorn raided the town. Fighting and camping took their toll on Franklin’s landscape. Soldiers who returned to the town that spring and summer remarked with surprise how complete its degradation had been from just a few months earlier. Buildings bore visible damage from shooting, shops were closed or abandoned, and many inhabitants had fled the town. Federal surgeon Jerome Burbank described the town in February 1863 as “a forsaken, disconsolate doleful looking place; no trade, no business…”26 In late March, a Wisconsin correspondent claimed “there is not a store open in the town.”27 Another described Franklin as:
“…a picture of desolation. Bridges, mills, manufactories demolished, and laying in heaps of ruins. Stores closed, churches abandoned, academies standing in loneliness, residences forsaken, and the people gone. There cannot be more than 300 inhabitants in the town at the present time and many of these belonging to the colored population. Marks of shot and shell are frequently seen; many buildings are destitute of windows; fences are demolished and all things wear the aspect of gloom and melancholly. There are but very few houses in the town in which more or less glass is not broken.”28
Civilians who remained in and around Franklin faced dire food shortages. In February 1863 a Wisconsin soldier reported that in Franklin “Tea, sugar, coffee, rice, and other groceries they have not had for a twelvemonth. The dry-goods had long been sold, and the stores were empty, if we except a drug store or two. They would pay almost any price for groceries.”29 Hopes for the 1863 harvest must have been equally sobering, with much of the enslaved labor force gone and roving bands of soldiers taking supplies as they needed from civilians.
To many in Williamson County, the future looked bleak in 1863. Little did they know how the situation would change during the late summer and fall of 1863.
Next: Trade Stores: Franklin’s War-Time Economy
1 – Andrew Johnson, The Papers of Andrew Johnson, vol. 5, p. 511-12.
2 – William Casley, 69th Ohio. Papers of Andrew Johnson, vol. 5, p. 511-12.
3- 1st Wisconsin scrapbook, 4 Apr. 1862, Civilwardigital.com
4 – 5th Wisconsin scrapbook, 26 Feb. 1863, Civilwardigital.com
5 – Hiram Lodge No. 7 Membership Ledger, Historic Franklin Masonic Hall Foundation, Franklin, TN.
6 – 5th Wisconsin scrapbook, 26 Feb. 1863, Civilwardigital.com
7 – Glen V. Longacre and John E. Haas, ed., Emerson Opdyke, To Battle For God and the Right: The Civil War Letterbooks or Emerson Opdyke (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003), p. 55.
8 – Nashville Daily Union, 30 Apr. 1863, Newspapers.com (Accessed 25 Oct. 2019).
9 – Adelicia McEwen German, Reminiscences of a School Girl during the War Between the States (ca. 1911), in Rick Warwick’s Williamson County: The Civil War As seen through the Female Experience (2008), Williamson County Historical Society, Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, Panacea Press, Nashville, 13.
10 – Coschocton Democrat, 28 Dec. 1864, Newspapers.com
11 – 7th Wisconsin scrapbook, 31 Mar. 1863, Civilwardigital.com
12 – 10th Wisconsin scrapbook, 22 Feb. 1862, Civilwardigital.com
13 – 7th Wisconsin scrapbook, 31 Mar. 1863, Civilwardigital.com
14 – Trustees of Hiram Lodge No. 7, Court of Claims, National Archives, p.
15 – Official Records, June 24, 1862.
16 – Dr. Thomas Flagel, The Fortress War: Effect of Union Fortifications in the Western Theater of the American Civil War, Dissertation for MTSU, 2016, p. 21-22.
17 – The use of the word contraband reveals that the Federal forces, like southern masters, continued to view enslaved people as property. In fact, in the early portion of the war, the U.S. Government intended to pay masters for their escaped enslaved. This of course changed in 1863 with the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation.
18 – Samuel Boyd Map of April 10, 1863 Franklin, Tennessee. Boyd Family Papers, Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley.
19 – Trustees of Hiram Lodge No. 7, Court of Claims, National Archives.
20 – Tina Cahalan Jones, slavestosoldiers.com
21 – 5th Wisconsin scrapbook, 26 Feb. 1863, Civilwardigital.com
22 – Ibid.
23 – Battle of Franklin Trust, “The Enslaved at Carter House and Carnton,” https://boft.org/the-enslaved-at-carter-house-carnton (Accessed 25 Oct. 2019).
24 – 22nd Wisconsin scrapbook, 23 Jun. 1863, Civilwardigital.com
25 – Kathryn Shively Meier, Nature’s Civil War: Common Soldiers and the Environment in 1862 Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013), 1.
26 – 22nd Wisconsin scrapbook, 27 Feb. 1863, Jerome Burbank, Civilwardigital.com
27 – 22nd Wisconsin scrapbook, 9 Mar. 1863, Civilwardigital.com
28 – 22nd Wisconsin scrapbook, Pillsbury, Civilwardigital.com
29 – 5th Wisconsin scrapbook, 26 Feb. 1863, Civilwardigital.com